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What does a Clinical Nurse Specialist do?

Nursing is one of the most vital fields in existence. While doctors may make diagnoses, prescribe medications and devise treatment regimens, it is nurses that make it all happen. They are the ones most responsible for the actual tracking of a patient’s condition and the hands on care that patients receive.

Within the nursing field, as with any technical field, there are many levels of expertise. Those that attain the highest levels of education and skill are known as a Clinical Nurse Specialist. The ANA (American Nurses Association) defines a Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) as “A nurse who is an expert in a defined area of knowledge and who practices in a selected area of expertise.” In simpler terms, this means that a Clinical Nurse Specialist is someone who has already qualified as a Registered Nurse (RN) and then has gone on to specialize, just as some doctors do, in the care of and issues surrounding a particular type of patient or disorder.

clinical nurse specialist

Some of these specialties include:

  • Community Health
  • Gerontology
  • Oncology
  • Psychiatry
  • Women’s Health
  • Acute Care
  • Adult and Family Care
  • Neonatal and Pediatric Care

Within these specialties a Clinical Nurse Specialist may perform all of the duties that you would expect of a nurse, but in addition to their traditional role may also act as a:

  • Treatment Coordinator
  • Researcher
  • Educator
  • Consultant
  • Clinical Expert

In fact, many times, in cases that involve a high degree of interdisciplinary treatment, it is actually a Clinical Nurse Specialist that has overall responsibility for the patients’ treatment rather than any of the attending physicians.

As can be imagined, a field that carries the great responsibility that a Clinical Nurse Specialist enjoys is not simple to enter. You must first work your way up the ladder of nursing beginning as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). Then receive a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). This will qualify you to take the NCLEX-RN (National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses). Pass this exam and you will become an RN. Once you have qualified as an RN you will need to continue your education, completing a master’s program, preferably a Master of Science in Nursing and then continue your education in your desired specialty.

Though a difficult field to enter, the overall benefits make becoming a Clinical Nurse Specialist well worthwhile. Clinical Nurse Specialists enjoy a very high salary rate compared to most fields and, with a rate of demand that is increasing every year, it is one of the most secure job fields available.

What does a Director of Nursing do?

Nursing often invokes images of bedside patient care, and for good reason: nurses set up IVs, administer medicine, and provide for the health and well-being of patients. But this is not the life of all nurses. As a director of nursing, your primary tasks will be administrative.

director of nursing

The director of nursing has tough shoes to fill. To be successful, first, you need to be an excellent nurse. Additionally, you need to possess a high level of tact, patience and strong leadership, listening and negotiation skills. On top of all this, you must be good with numbers, in particular, finances.

Becoming a director of nursing

Becoming a director of nursing does not happen overnight. Your first step, if you have not already done so, is to become a Registered Nurse, or RN. You can become a RN by earning a bachelor’s or associate degree or by completing a hospital-administered diploma program.

While both bachelors’ and associates’ in registered nursing are widely available (unlike diplomas, which are hard to find), earning a bachelor’s degree could allow the most direct entry into administrative positions. Increasingly, employers require master’s degrees from nursing administrators. With a bachelor’s degree, you can apply directly to graduate school.

Becoming a director of nursing, though, typically takes more than earning an RN degree. Lucky for you, there are plenty of educational programs–mostly at the graduate level–that offer degrees in nursing administration. These programs involve taking such courses as:

  • Health care policy
  • Advanced nursing research
  • Health care finance
  • Nursing administration
  • Human resources management

Furthermore, even as advanced degrees are often preferred for nursing administrators, it is possible to land such a job with a bachelor’s degree. Doing so with an associate degree is a considerable challenge.

Director of nursing careers

Even with a shiny degree in hand, you need to practice as a RN before becoming an administrator. This is a good thing: How can you direct nursing without first being a nurse? A common route toward becoming a director of nursing involves the following steps:

  • Working as a RN
  • Becoming head nurse or assistant unit manager
  • Advancing to assistant director
  • Becoming director of nursing

And the steps don’t have to stop there. For the very ambitious, there are vice president and chief of nursing positions, which carry high levels of responsibility and offer high pay. In general, the more administrative duties your job entails, the more it should pay.

What does a Nurse do?

A nurse helps people take care of their health. Virginia Henderson, a famous nurse researcher, once said that “the unique function of the nurse is to assist the individual, sick or well, in the performance of those activities contributing to health or its recovery (or peaceful death) that he would perform unaided if he had the necessary strength, will or knowledge.”

While doctors focus on curing disease, nurses deal with patients’ responses to disease and illness. A doctor, for instance, will order tests and medicine to treat a patient with asthma. A nurse will make sure the patient understands how to take the medication and how to pace his daily activities to avoid asthma flare-ups.

Where nurses work

Nurses work in hospitals, nursing homes, medical clinics, schools, government agencies, factories, prisons, churches and out in the community. While most nurses work for a healthcare agency or institution, some nurses are independent consultants or entrepreneurs.


Nurses can choose to specialize by disease or area of interest. Common nursing specialties include maternal-child nursing (the care of pregnant/birthing women and their babies), oncology nursing (the care of cancer patients) and geriatrics (the care of the elderly).

Becoming a nurse

There are many paths to a nursing career. Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) typically attend one year of college, either at a vocational/technical school or community college. After graduation, they must pass the National Council Licensure Exam, NCLEX-PN, which is administered by state boards of nursing.

Registered nurses (RNs) typically attend two to four years of college. Associate degree programs in nursing (ADN) are offered by vo-tech schools or community colleges and feature lots of hands-on clinical and classroom work. An ADN program is a two-year program.

Bachelor degree programs, which lead to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), are four-year programs offered by colleges and universities. BSN programs include a foundation in the liberal arts and courses in management, conflict resolution, nursing theory and research. Both ADN and BSN grads must pass a licensing exam, the NCLEX-RN, to obtain their nursing license and begin work as a nurse.

Nurses in demand

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for nurses is expected to grow by about 20 percent. Because healthcare is shifting out of hospitals and into the community, most new nursing positions will be in physicians’ offices, home care and nursing care facilities.

Nursing offers infinite opportunities for advancement. Nurses with an entry-level degree can work as staff nurses, nurse managers and patient educators. Advanced degrees open the door to additional opportunities, including nurse educator, nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, nurse anesthesiologist and certified nurse midwife.